New targeted therapy eliminates cancer with zero side effects

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Johannes Karges develops anti-cancer agents that work in a targeted manner, rather than adversely affecting the entire body.

Chemical researcher Dr. Johannes Karges from the Department of Inorganic Chemistry at Ruhr Universitäy Bochum, Germany, has been awarded the Breast Cancer Research Junior Award 2023. Aged only 31, the researcher has thus been recognized for his outstanding achievements towards a new active principle of chemotherapeutics. While these drugs have proven effective against cancer cells, they also damage healthy body cells, causing severe side effects. Johannes Karges aims to package the active ingredients in such a way that they accumulate primarily in tumor tissue and activate their cell-damaging properties only when they're exposed to light. The prize was awarded to Johannes Karges on January 17, 2024 in Hanover.

Dreaded side effects

Approximately half of all chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer are platinum-based. They act against tumor cells, but they also do damage healthy body cells. This is what causes the dreaded side effects such as nausea, hair loss, liver and kidney damage.

Johannes Karges applies double selectivity in his research: The cell-damaging active substances are packaged in nanoparticles that are not harmful to the body. Moreover, they're marked in such a way that they accumulate primarily in tumor cells. "They dock onto a specific receptor that is found to be overexpressed in cancer cells," explains Karges. And they only develop their cell-damaging effect once they've been activated. The researchers use light for this purpose. "Ideally, it will no longer be necessary to perform surgery to treat a tumor," as Johannes Karges outlines his vision. "We'll administer the drug into the patient's vein, wait until it has accumulated in the tumor and then position the patient under a red light lamp that specifically activates the compound and triggers the therapeutic effect." The researchers successfully demonstrated this therapeutic concept in breast cancer cells and in mouse models with a breast cancer tumor. Thanks to the double selectivity of the newly developed active substances, none of the typical side effects were observed in the animal model. The breast cancer tumor, however, was selectively removed in a single treatment.

About the person

Johannes Karges (born in 1992) studied chemistry at the Philipps University Marburg. After completing his bachelor's degree, he pursued postgraduate studies at Imperial College London on an Erasmus scholarship and obtained his master's degree in Marburg in 2016. Karges then moved to Paris to write his doctoral thesis in medicinal inorganic chemistry under the supervision of Professor Gilles Gasser at the University of Paris Sciences & Lettres. He completed some of the research for this thesis in the laboratory of Professor Hui Chao at Sun Yat-Sen University (China).

In 2020, after successfully completing his doctorate, Karges joined the group of Professor Seth M. Cohen at the University of California San Diego. In 2022, he received a Liebig Fellowship from the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie, which enabled him to return to Germany and pursue a career as an independent researcher. He used this funding to set up his own research group at the Faculty of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Ruhr University ( The group specializes in the interface between inorganic and medicinal chemistry.

Journal reference:

Zhou, H., et al. (2023). Theranostic imaging and multimodal photodynamic therapy and immunotherapy using the mTOR signaling pathway. Nature Communications.


  1. Elizabeth Sylvia Elizabeth Sylvia United States says:

    If only you could make this happen!  As a cancer warrior, I can say that some of the worst aspects of cancer are the cures...the terrible toll on organs, bones, blood, not to mention the strength and mental endurance of the patient.  If the workhorse medicines can be delivered in this magical way, so many people could have enhanced lives, saved from the awful consequences of the medications that are supposed to help. When, when, when...? The clock is running out for many.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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